There was some conversation over twitter during the debate last night about the strange fact that no one seems to want to attack Mitt Romney, and someone said it’s because they all want to be vice president. Could be! You never know what nutty thing a politician might be thinking.

But really: the VP nominee almost certainly wasn’t up on the stage in Iowa. Candidates who are outside the GOP mainstream (Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, to some extent Michele Bachmann) are not going to be selected. Newt Gingrich? C’mon. He’d be just as easy a target as a VP candidate as he is now in Iowa. Not gonna happen. Rick Santorum, despite his Google problem, would seem to be a plausible VP nominee — but then again, it’s a bit hard to see why anyone would want him, especially if we assume that he never does catch fire in Iowa.

That leaves Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Both, I think, would be perfectly reasonable running mates, at least assuming that they survive the remainder of the nomination contest without hurting themselves. Still, neither seems especially likely. If Romney wins, he probably wants someone who will spark genuine enthusiasm among conservatives. Should Perry prevail (or I suppose if Newt or one of the others wins after all), it’s a little hard to see Romney as the logical choice. Sure, there would be an impulse to make nice with Washington Republicans who didn’t support the campaign. But Romney, while gradually winning the support of Washington Republicans, isn’t really “of” them in the way that George H.W.  Bush was in 1988 or Bob Dole in 1996. Plus he’d be a two-time loser (granted, so was Joe Biden).

But the real story here is that the energy of the GOP isn’t up there on stage in the presidential nomination fight; it’s among the new crop of Governors and Senators, especially the ones elected in 2010. There’s going to be a lot of pressure from Tea Partiers and others to select one of them. It’s risky — my advice to all presidential nominees is to select someone who has already been vetted by the presidential nomination process. And perhaps the experience of Sarah Palin will put a little pause into the selection this time around. Still, I’m finding it hard to see any of the current contenders winding up in the #2 spot.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.